The Narrow Straits of Dover

The village of St Margarets lies just to the south of here, where the English Channel is at its narrowest and the chalk cliffs rise dizzyingly high.

The Dover Patrol Memorial standing proud on the cliffs north of St Margarets Bay. It was built to commemorate the two thousand men of the Dover Patrol who lost their lives in the Channel during World War I
The South Foreland Lighthouse is just south of St Margarets. Surprisingly, there is a newly planted vineyard up here now in what is surely a very exposed position

This area was called ‘Hellfire Corner’ in World War II and still bristles with the remains of fortifications from back then.

Photo of an information board up on the cliffs. The guns Winnie, Pooh, Clem and Jane were all situated in the South Foreland area and were removed after the war, although evidence of them remains

We stumbled upon two fortifications that we had never seen before when we took the dog for a walk up there this week:

This was the Fortress Plotting Room for all the gun batteries north of Dover, although it has now been partly filled in and grilled for safety. These days it is a winter bat roost and I know that Kent Bat Group gets round all the roosts that they are aware of every winter to check on number and species of the hibernating bats. Perhaps they have no access to this one though. In January this year, the group hit the national headlines when they found a Greater Horseshoe Bat roosting in the bowels of Dover Castle, the first such sighting for a hundred years.

Nearby was a second structure, built as a deep shelter:

This shelter had one hundred and twenty five steps down to a space that would be safe even in the worst of attacks. Apparently civilians were welcome to use this shelter as well, although it is a fair old walk up from the village. I suspect that most of St Margarets was evacuated of civilians anyway during the war.

Eighty years on now and the narrowness of the Straits of Dover once again mean that this part of the country is on the forefront of another crisis. More than 24,700 desperate migrants have risked their lives packed onto flimsy boats and crossed the Channel so far this year, already three times more than last year. We witnessed a boat arriving this week:

The overloaded migrant boat is on the left. A Border Force rib is on the right and the BF Hurricane is speeding in. I hadn’t seen this boat before but she seems to be specialised for these situations

The BF Hurricane had presumably already just rescued people from another boat because she was towing an empty rib on her port side. The people from that previous boat were now on an RNLI boat, making its way back to Dover:

An RNLI boat, full of migrants at its bow, sprinting back to Dover
The BF Hurricane now comes alongside this second migrant inflatable dinghy
Offloading the people from the dinghy. I see that there is a portaloo on the stern for them – probably much needed too after all that time at sea

A few days after we watched this boat being safely intercepted, there has been a terrible tragedy and one of these woefully inadequate vessels has sunk off Calais, heavily overloaded with its precious human cargo. At least twenty-seven lives have been lost, every one of them someone’s son or daughter. Hopefully now Britain and France will work positively together to come up with a solution to this heartbreaking problem.

In the meadows, it has been cold with bitter northerly winds and abrupt showers:

Preparations for winter are well under way at the Badger sett. A large volume of pond reed has been taken off underground as bedding:

In the garden, all these leaves came off one tree over the course of a few hours. So, there’s a job for us:

We usually make leaf mould with the fallen leaves by bundling them up and putting them into crates in the meadows. A couple of years of inattention, however, and the whole structure has practically disappeared behind a vicious bramble patch. So, that’s another job:

A lovely Yew grows in the garden, covered in berries at this time of year that are much loved by Blackbirds and Thrushes:

As Blackbirds start to gather around the tree, I think the fun is just about to begin. This is made all the more enjoyable for us because we can view it all from the comfort of our kitchen:

This photo is from this time last year when the Yew was stripped of its berries in no time at all once the birds got going. They only start on these Yew berries once the Hawthorn berries are all gone from the meadows

Growing in the lawn are a few beautiful Amethyst Deceiver toadstools. I can’t help but notice that there is not actually much grass in our lawn:

Green Woodpeckers have been keeping a low profile in the meadows recently and this was the first summer that I have not seen any speckled juveniles around. Good to see this female then:

Things have been generally very quiet on the trail cameras but one morning a male Sparrowhawk came in for a bath:

In the wood, we still have a camera strapped to a pole and looking along a horizontal branch. Over the months that it has been there, we have got some great shots from it:

Buzzard in the wood this week

Now that the Woodcock are back, I am always excited to see what this pond camera has to offer, because we often see them here:

Pheasants can apparently be very variable and this is a surprisingly dark female:

Grey Squirrels do so much damage in the wood but I cannot deny that they are also rather sweet:

One of our daughters moved to the lovely village of Wye in the North Downs this year. They were delighted to discover a healthy population of hedgehogs in their garden and have provided a safe place for them to hibernate in, should they so desire. The box has an internal wall to create a room within that is inaccessible to reaching paws. This week, prospective viewings have been taking place…

…but there was also a reminder of the perils these little creatures face every day:

What a fabulous trail camera photo

This Christmas Cactus always gets it wrong and flowers in November:

I now see this flowering as a herald of the start of the Christmas season. It’s getting wintry out there and, as my thoughts are turning to the upcoming festivities, I do so hope that all the wildlife is getting itself tucked up snugly until spring.

The Evergreen Oak

There are several majestic, evergreen Holm Oaks in the meadows, providing a windbreak from strong coastal winds for us and year-round shelter for birds and other animals.

These trees are native to the Mediterranean region but they do very well here in this exposed and often unforgiving coastal location, where many of our native species struggle. Only one of these trees has had a heavy crop of acorns this year but it has now been ransacked of this bounty by the Jays. We have seen three birds at one time so there is at least that number at work. Most of the acorns will, by now, be buried in the meadows, forming a stash of food to keep the birds provisioned throughout the ordeal of the winter to come:

Empty acorn cups

Jays apparently have a remarkable memory for where they have buried their acorns so that they can return. But there are always some that have not been eaten by spring that will then start to germinate. It may be that they were not needed or have been overlooked, but there is also new evidence to suggest that the Jays might actually be farming these seedlings.

Photo from October 2020. A Jay must have buried three Holm Oak acorns in this bag of topsoil the previous autumn and presumably forgotten about them

By the time they are sprouting upwards in the spring, a tap root will have formed underground to bring in food, and the tiny trees will no longer need the carbohydrates stored in the cotyledons of the acorn. Jays have been observed to half pull some of these seedlings up – far enough to get at these cotyledons that are now no longer required, but not enough to kill the fledgling tree. They then give these energy-packed cotyledons to their young. The Oaks feed the Jays and the Jays plant the trees’ seeds – I find this mutually beneficial relationship between the tree and the bird absolutely fascinating.

Perhaps a few acorns are still left on the trees – but not for much longer:

Jay with an acorn tucked between its feet
A year on and one of these small Holm Oaks, originally planted by Jays in the bag of topsoil, has now been replanted in the meadows. Here it will have the space to grow into an enormous tree for future generations of both Jays and humans to enjoy
A Holm Oak in our garden. We had this pollarded a few years ago which felt quite drastic at the time but it has now grown back to be this absolutely beautiful tree, which puts me in mind of an Olive tree. No acorns on it this year though

Six years ago we built a beetle stack by digging these logs deep into the ground, where they would slowly rot and provide habitat for beetle larvae:

By now, many of these logs are very soft and close to collapsing but the whole thing can be declared a complete success. Just from our occasional strolls past, we have noticed adult beetles emerging, a Wren spends a lot of time hunting for insects within the structure and this summer there was a bumblebee nest at the base. At the moment, there is quite a covering of Dead Man’s fingers:

The fungus Xylaria polymorpha, or Dead Man’s Fingers, growing in the soil around the rotting wood

We had hoped to encourage Stag Beetles with these log stacks, but have never seen one, or its smaller relative, the Lesser Stag Beetle, in the meadows.

The distribution of the majestic Stag Beetle in 2017 is shown in purple above and sadly I see that it no longer stretches to coastal East Kent. Stag Beetles lay their eggs in rotting wood under the ground. Image taken from the People’s Trust for Endangered Species website

Lesser Stag Beetles are similar but smaller and, unlike their Stag Beetles cousins, they lay their eggs into wood and tree stumps above ground. They are more common and have a wider range than the Stag Beetle but unfortunately are still not seen in the east coast of Kent:

So it looks like the three log stacks we have built in the meadows are unlikely to be benefiting either type of Stag Beetle anytime soon, but there are surely so many other invertebrates that have been happily using them instead. We are planning to build a few more of these structures this winter using timber that we will cut from the wood this coming coppicing season.

The other two, more recently constructed, beetle stacks in the shade of a Wild Cherry in the meadows

I was very pleased this week when the colour-ringed female Herring Gull X9LT made a fleeting appearance. She hasn’t been around for quite a while and I was getting worried:

She was ringed in January 2015 at Pitsea landfill site in Essex and, at that point, was assessed to be four years old or older but still with some juvenile plumage. This makes her approximately eleven years old now and I see that the average lifespan is twelve years although Herring Gulls have been known to live to thirty-two.

At this time of year, every sighting of a butterfly is precious because you don’t know if it is going to be the last one until next spring. Here is a glamorous Red Admiral this week – will this be the 2021 grand butterfly finale?

We have waded back in the wild pond and now most of the reeds have been pulled out, although leaving some as shelter for amphibians. It is pleasing to have finally got this job done:

This is a highly unusual sight for the meadows:

This sight, however, is not. This lovely little dog of ours has just had her eighth birthday but still remains very active, chasing helicopters and micro-lighters out of her airspace. Thankfully she has no interest whatsoever in killing the wildlife that she shares the meadows with, but she definitely loves to chase it given half a chance:

We had a large cargo ship, the Ocean Giant, at anchor alongside the meadows for perhaps as long as a week and it was beginning to feel like a new friend:

I wonder how the crew onboard amused themselves during all those days with nothing much going on. Did they learn to tie knots and scrub away at the decks, or am I in the wrong century?

We took the dog north along the coast for a walk at Sandwich Bay this week, and enjoyed the view back towards the town of Deal with the Ocean Giant still at anchor.

Stonechat at Sandwich Bay

While we were there, we called in at The Sandwich Bay Observatory Trust’s Restharrow scrape. This new scrape was finished in early 2020 just as Covid struck and so it didn’t actually open to visitors until the middle of this year and this was only our second ever visit. We were very pleased to see a group of nine Snipe there:

Three of the Snipe amongst some Teal

The Ocean Giant was on a voyage from Poland to Canada. Eventually, on Monday night, she raised her anchor in the dark and slipped silently away back into the shipping lane, heading west to Canada, and we are left none the wiser as to why she spent this week-long pause in her journey with us.

Over in the wood, we have had another session of clearing Dogwood from the area where we saw the Silver-washed Fritillary butterflies this year:

In the summer, this part of the wood is a fantastic carpet of Marjoram, but it was becoming very overgrown and shaded out by Dogwood. We have had fun clearing this quite large area and are now filled with eager anticipation to see how this will look next year

The Woodcock are arriving back in the wood for the winter:

I have seen this Fox on the cameras in the wood a couple of times now and feel instant affection for it because it looks so very much like the Old Gentleman from the meadows:

In winter, the wood is a good place to see the wonderfully named Dog Sick Slime Mould:

On a dull, mid-November day, what we need to buck us up is a little bit of colour. The best that the meadows can offer at this time of year are the berries of the native Stinking Iris, Iris foetidissima:

They are very colourful and might do the trick but perhaps these American Flamingos will do better? Our son and his girlfriend have launched themselves on a year-long world trip starting in Mexico and this week they visited the CelestĂșn Biosphere Reserve in the Yucatan region of Mexico.

The collective noun for Flamingos is a flamboyance which feels very appropriate.

I finish today with the moon. The moon shining on the sea forms an atmospheric background for this photo of our old friend the One-eyed Vixen:

As the moon rose this afternoon, I tried my best to capture something of its magic:

The full moon in November is called the Beaver Moon and we will look out for it tomorrow night.

Crossing Borders

Mid November and Swallows continue to be buffeted by strong winds over the meadows as they battle their way south to warmer climes. At the same time, fast, tight squadrons of Starlings shoot in off the sea at regular intervals. They do not linger but speed straight on through, drawn onwards to their destinations further inland – these seasonal visitors will join our resident Starlings and together they will murmurate in their thousands at dusk over our reedbeds throughout the winter.

We have tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to see the winter spectacle of the Starling murmurations many times. This was the best one seen to date – Otmoor RSPB reserve in Oxfordshire in December 2019

Also arriving into the country from the coniferous forests around the Baltic are these tiny little birds, a few of which were caught and ringed here this week. This is a female Goldcrest and if you gently blow on the feathers of her crest, you can see that they are all gold:

These petite little birds only weigh around 5g

This next bird is a male:

At first sight, he looks very similar but, when you blow on his crest feathers, you can see vibrant flame-orange feathers that lie mostly hidden within the crest:

The Bird Ringers also caught a female Firecrest, with a black stripe through her eye and the white stripe above:

Similar to the female Goldcrest, her crest is all yellow:

This is probably a Continental Blackbird, bigger and heavier that our resident birds and with a dark beak:

It is now known that the Blackcaps that are in the UK during the summer migrate south in the autumn, although they are replaced by other Blackcaps that arrive from colder parts of Europe to spend the winter here. Therefore, the Blackcap that was caught and ringed here this week could have been either leaving or arriving:

Meadow Pipits stay in this country all year:

The amazingly long hind claws on a Meadow Pipit, thought to help it to spring up quickly from the ground away from predators

Long-tailed Tits are also resident and a group of six flew in to the net this week:

Interestingly, eyelid colour in Long Tailed Tit can range from pale yellow, as here, to deep red. There is some scientific evidence that the colour can be a reflection of their mood:

The Bird Ringers use their ears as well as their eyes to tell them what birds are around, in a way that we are only very slowly learning to do. They told us that there were Fieldfare and Linnets in the hedgerow, Meadow Pipits in the field behind and a small flock of Siskin flying over. They also saw a Reed Bunting in the ant paddock which is a new species for the meadow list – number ninety.

The Jays have been busy all week stripping the Holm Oaks of their acorns:

Jay with acorn

The acorn is stripped down to the cotyledons and this one was eaten rather than buried:

Apparently a Jay can carry up to nine acorns at a time in its gullet but normally they carry two or three with one also in its bill:

A Jay carrying at least two acorns, captured by a trail camera. I am slightly confused why these acorns seem to be stripped of their outer casings – maybe it is just the light

It has been estimated that a single Jay will hoard as many as 3,000 acorns over the course of an autumn as a store of food for it through the winter.

Blackbirds eating the Whitebeam berries
Lovely little House Sparrow in the hedgerow
In early autumn there were very few House Sparrows around, but a big flock has returned now
Kestrel at the top of a pine tree

And watching for voles in the second meadow
There has been another Heron visit this week but I saw it come down and went out to shoo it off. If you are surprised by how dogmatically anti-Heron we are, could I explain that it is a result of bitter experience – a couple of years ago the pond became a scene of mass slaughter when a Heron fished literally hundreds of frogs and newts out, leaving it bare of amphibians. Herons are not seen here at all during the summer and I believe this to be a newly-arrived migrant bird

When the sun is shining, there are still plenty of late-flying insects taking advantage of what the flowering Ivy has on offer

Common Wasp, Vespula vulgaris. I hadn’t realised how furry they are
Eristalis sp hoverfly, possibly Eristalis pertinax but I really needed to get a better view of its legs to say for sure
The complicated underside of a Red Admiral, probing the Ivy with its proboscis
And from above
While the Bird Ringers were here, we spotted our first Clouded Yellow of the year. This is a migratory species that flies here from northern Africa or southern Europe
A spider has built a web across this camera lens creating this surreal effect

In the last post, I mentioned how wonderful it was to hear Owls hooting around the house at night. This next photo is a screenshot from a video this week. I have looked long and hard at the video and I regret to say that this looks ever so much like a Tawny Owl that this fox is carrying in his mouth. Certainly we have not heard an Owl since this video was taken:

This fox, with the end of his tail dipped down, is a regular at the nightly peanuts

On winter nights in the wood, we have seen Tawny Owls on the ground hunting for worms and I suppose they are vulnerable to pouncing foxes when they do this.

One of my all-time favourite trail camera shots of a Tawny catching a worm back in 2019

Swallows, Starlings, Goldcrests, Firecrests, Blackbirds, Blackcaps, Herons and Clouded Yellows – there is a lot of crossing of borders at this time of year. One of our sons has crossed continents and embarked on a grand adventure – a year travelling the world with his girlfriend. They will probably have to be flexible with their itinerary but they have started in Mexico. I asked them to send me photos of interesting wildlife that they see along the way, and this week we have this colourful photo of a Mexican butterfly:

An unidentified Mexican butterfly

Mexico famously provides a safe haven for millions of the migratory Monarch Butterflies from October to March, but they do also have 2,044 other species of butterfly in the country. In contrast, the UK has a meagre 59 species.

Mexico also has 19 species of Iguana. I found a website showing images of them all and think that this one that they saw is probably the Green Iguana (Iguana iguana). I see that the adult size of this one is a rather monstrous 4-5.5 feet:

I envy them the experiences of new cultures, landscapes and wildlife that are to come and it seems an awfully long time since we ourselves have stepped a foot off British soil. On clear days we can see another country from the meadows:

The white cliffs of France across the Channel

Ferries are plying back and forth from Dover just down the coast and maybe it won’t be too long now before we have the confidence to get over there, even if only for a day trip.

As Remembrance Day approaches, I finish today with this moving installation by Mark Humphreys on Dover seafront to commemorate the dead of the First World War. Every few minutes a motor starts up and the space is filled with fluttering poppies:

Lest We Forget.

Fifty Million Trees

The Woodland Trust have made the ambitious pledge to plant fifty million new trees in the next five years. By taking in carbon dioxide and changing it into oxygen and carbohydrate, trees take carbon out of the atmosphere and lock it up into wood. A single tree has so many leaves busy doing this that they are an extremely important part of our attempt to hold back climate change. The average woodland cover in the EU is 37% but in the UK it is currently only 13%, and that needs to increase to an estimated 19% if we are to meet our carbon neutral target by 2050.

Since coming to the meadows, we have added around 850 trees although 600 of these are part of a new hedgerow rather than to be grown as trees. Five years ago we planted 200 mixed native trees as a linear wood along the cliff edge and these trees are mostly doing very well indeed and are now loaded with fruit at this time of year.

These trees were planted as small bare root saplings five years ago and are now thriving

But on the other hand, the six expensive large English Oaks with established root balls that we planted in 2018 to mark a big birthday have struggled right from the start. Three of them are now completely dead and the remaining three are only just about hanging on in there.

Dead or very sickly English Oaks

Our soil is probably too light and dry for English Oaks to flourish and we need to give more thought as to what type of tree is used. We have also learned the hard way that planting small trees works best, where less is required of the root systems while they get established.

Our native trees have coevolved alongside many species of insect that have adapted to use these trees at some point in their life cycle. An example is the native Scots Pine that is associated with ninety-one insect species whereas, for the non-native Larch, this number is just seventeen. Holm Oaks are not native but do well in our soils and exposed coastal conditions and we already have several lovely, mature Holm Oaks here. They are not as valuable to wildlife as British native oaks but their catkins and acorns are definitely well used and their dense, evergreen canopy offers year round shelter to birds. They also capture carbon just the same as native trees – or, I speculate, perhaps even better since they are evergreen and will be doing so all year round?

An evergreen Holm Oak between the first and second meadows

A small Holm Oak was found growing in a bag of top soil that was leftover from making the raised beds in the allotment. An acorn was probably buried by a Jay who did not then return to eat it. I potted the little tree up last October and it has grown well over the summer. The plan is to now replant it properly into the meadows this autumn.

Britain has only three native coniferous trees; Scots Pine and Yew, both of which we have already planted here, and Juniper. On paper, Juniper sounds like it might do well in this chalk downland location although I have to say that we have never seen any growing in this area. It supports over fifty insect species and its berries and shoots provide food for birds and mammals. We decided to give it a go and ordered four little trees from the Woodland Trust shop…

..and planted them up. They had a heavy mulch of woodchippings as well since they are 300m from the nearest tap and keeping them well watered next summer will be challenging:

We also ordered and planted four Whitebeam from the Woodland Trust. So that is eight trees ticked off towards their fifty million target.

The autumn migration continues and I have noticed a big increase in the number of Blackbirds around the place:

The two birds on the left with their black beaks could be continental blackbirds, newly arrived to spend the winter in this country from the colder parts of Europe, although our resident first year males do also have black beaks.

This time last year the Bird Ringer caught a continental blackbird. The brown primary wing feathers at the leading edge of the wing tell us that, as well as being continental, this is also a first year bird.

November 2020
Another first year male with brown primary wing feathers that was on the cameras this week – not sure if this one is a continental bird or not

Grey Heron have put in a few appearances this week but I am still thinking that these are birds in transit, migrating into the country from the parts of Europe where their feeding grounds will be frozen for most of the winter:

It is not yet time to bring Mackenzie, our secret weapon, out from the shed where he has been holidaying all summer. Over the last two winters, our scarecrow has had a 100% success rate in deterring heron from the pond, saving our populations of frogs and newts.

Mackenzie on duty last winter as the frogs started to gather in the pond prior to spawning.

We don’t want to bring Mackenzie out too early such that he loses his shock factor and the herons have got used to him by frog spawning time.

As a child growing up in suburban Maidenhead, I always wished we lived somewhere more rural so that there were owls calling around the house at night. Well, it has taken many decades to achieve, but the gentle hooting of a male Tawny in the meadows has been heard on several evenings this week and he was even kind enough to appear on one of our trail cameras:

A fortnight ago I was wondering how long our male Herring Gull would be going around with his offspring to show it the ropes. Well, it seems that the young bird has now been asked to plough its own furrow and the adult male is arriving each morning on his own:

Some other birds on the cameras this week:

Female Kestrel
Male Sparrowhawk
Jays are very much in evidence at this time of year as they work to strip the Holm Oaks of acorns

What an immense yawn and what a fine set of teeth:

A bit of bickering at peanut time:

I really like the next two photos of the One-eyed Vixen. Here she pops up from a hole under the fence and glances left at the camera:

At the highest point of the meadows, she pauses contemplatively and looks out to sea:

Once this spell of stormy weather is over, I need to wade back into the pond and do some more clearing. All the reeds that I have pulled out so far have now gone off underground as winter bedding. It is helpful for us to see where it is being taken so that we know which of the numerous cliff-side burrows are currently being used:

In the wood this week:

Male Sparrowhawk
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Squirrel and sweet chestnut
Squirrel and hazelnut

Dawn this morning and a brisk wind keeps the Union Jack dancing. Strong winds and heavy rain are forecast to arrive within the hour but for now it is a beautiful start to a desperately important day that will see the leaders of the world meet in Glasgow, five hundred miles north of here, to discuss the future of our planet. The whole world watches on and holds its breath – we all need this to go well and planting fifty million trees is simply not enough.

Visiting Wildwood

This week we visited the Wildwood Trust near Canterbury. Here you can see British native animals, both past and present, and the Trust is also heavily involved in conservation and rewilding projects. For us it was a chance to get a really good close look at some of the animals that we have only seen fleeting glimpses of in the wild.

We had Red Deer in the wood last year but we only saw them on trail cameras:

We have had quite a few long distance sightings of Short Eared Owl in the meadows over the years:

Sadly we have never seen a Barn Owl in the meadows or the wood. Hopefully one day:

A few months ago we visited West Blean Woods here in East Kent where Kent Wildlife Trust are going to be releasing Bison as part of a rewilding scheme next year. The hump on their back seems especially prominent when they are lying down:

Four young Red-billed Choughs that hatched at Wildwood earlier this year have now been transferred to an aviary at Dover Castle, as a stepping stone to the release of this species onto Dover Cliffs in due course. Choughs used to live on the white cliffs of Dover but went extinct in SE England two hundred years ago as a result of changes in farming practices. Several cliff-side farms to the north of Dover have been bought up and managed by the National Trust for a few years now and suitable Chough habitat has been restored. It will be so wonderful to have them back.

The ongoing rewilding project at Alladale in Scotland has plans to one day release Wolves into the wild but that is still a dream rather than a reality and there is much discussion and unease about it. A small pack of Wolves can be seen at Wildwood:

Brown Bear were native to Britain until they were hunted to extinction about a thousand years ago. The Wild Place Project near Bristol now has Brown Bear and Wolves living together in seven acres of woodland and it is hoped that this experiment will further the debate on the rewilding of these animals. Of course the introduction of the apex predator tends to grab the headlines, but it is the background habitat restoration, necessary to create conditions in which that predator can survive, that is the real benefit.

The two Brown Bears at Wildwood were rescued from Bulgaria. Happily, the enclosure they now live in is so large and lovely that we only got very distant views of them:

Wildwood also has Lynx, our largest native cat that was lost here about five hundred years ago due to habitat loss, hunting and persecution. A campaign called Lynx To Scotland has been running to assess public opinion and an application for a licence to release Lynx, possibly into the Cairngorms, might follow in time.

We had been meaning to visit Wildwood for a long time and are pleased that we now have. It felt like much money could be spent on improving the infrastructure and signage there but I am sure that they also need those funds for their conservation and restoration work. Its been a very difficult couple of years for zoos.

Back in the meadows, just as the first streaks of light appear in the sky and long before the sun pokes her head above the horizon, a Robin comes in for a drink:

Robins have large eyes which means that their pupils can open wide and gather sufficient light to see at low light levels. They are among the earliest birds to start singing in the morning when, with less background noise and still air, their song carries up to twenty times further than it would later in the day. But they are not guaranteed to be safe from predators at that time of the day because we often see Sparrowhawks hunting in very low light:

Sparrowhawk eating a Blue Tit way before dawn last winter
The sad aftermath of a Sparrowhawk kill this week

Also active in the dark is the Garden Spider who we have been observing recently to see what she gets up to. She caught a moth one night and had it wrapped up tight by the time we passed by in the morning:

Later that same day, she was eating a wasp at the edge of the web:

There then followed a period of strong winds during which her web was completely destroyed. But, once the winds had dropped, the web was reconstructed overnight and reopened for business by the morning.

The new web, rebuilt over one night.

At the moment there are four Badgers and four Foxes that are regulars at the nightly peanuts. Here are all of the Foxes in attendance..

..and here are all the Badgers:

The Badgers are working away at getting the reeds underground as winter bedding. We pulled these reeds from the pond and then left them out for the Badgers:

The Kestrels continue to enjoy the cut meadows and we have been seeing a lot of them:

Not long after arriving here, we planted several Corsican and Scots Pine trees because they do well in these exposed coastal conditions. They are now growing away strongly and, at this time of year, each one is surrounded by rings of these Bovine Boletes (Suillus bovinus):

This ectomycorrhizal fungus is found in conifer woods and plantations across Europe, where it lives in symbiotic association with the trees. The trees’ roots are enveloped in sheaths of fungal tissue and the fungus helps the plant take water and minerals out of the soil. In return, the plant provides the fungus with carbohydrates that it has manufactured by photosynthesising the light.

The fungal fruiting bodies are very distinctive with their honeycomb undersides.

The fungus is mild and edible but not highly regarded by humans. However, slugs seem to love them:

I am generally not a fan of fuchsia and orange together but I do think that these Spindle berries get away with it:

The orange berries in the Stinking Iris pods are about to burst forth. This is our native Iris and there is a lot of it both in the meadows and the wood:

Two years ago, just over a hundred Slow Worms were rehomed here from land nearby that was to be developed. Since then, an ecologist has been regularly visiting the meadows to check on their welfare. This autumn he was hoping to see neonate, or newly born, Slow Worms as evidence that the population is now happily settled and breeding. Females incubate their eggs internally and give birth to live young in the late summer but we had never seen a neonate Slow Worm before. But we finally saw one this week under a sampling square, top left in this photo with the adults to give it scale:

We also found this tiny Toad under a sampling square. It was only about 3cm long and is the first Toad we have seen here this year:

This very small day-flying micro moth is probably the Diamond-backed Moth (Plutella xylostella)

A beautiful Comma butterfly bathing in the October sunshine:

A dramatic cloudscape out to sea:

We visited the wood this week and decided to do the annual clear out of this year’s old nests from the small nestboxes. However, five of the nest boxes in the regeneration area had Dormouse nests in them, so we left them well alone:

One Dormouse popped its head up – what an absolute sweetie

We bought thirty Dormice nest boxes last winter but haven’t put them up yet – our plans for the wood to become an official Dormouse monitoring site have been delayed because of Covid. But, with so many of the bird boxes being used by Dormice, I feel that I should now seek expert advice as to how best to proceed.

Also in the wood, a Buzzard comes in for a bath:

A Sparrowhawk takes a bath in the same pond:

I finish today with Grey Squirrels. Although the awful damage that Grey Squirrels do to the Beech trees do not endear them to me, there is something about them that is quite lovable. At this time of year, a lot of the mossy tree stumps in the wood are adorned with the outer casings of Sweet Chestnuts:

Most of these stumps are an awfully long way away from a Sweet Chestnut tree – the Squirrels are carrying the spiky nuts a considerable distance to then perch on the stumps to eat them:

Both these Squirrels and the Dormice will be be preparing for the coming winter, and the weather is already turning decidedly chilly. This will be our third winter in the wood and we are looking forward to commencing this year’s coppicing soon.

Mad Dash to The Finish

The tractor has been been repaired, serviced and returned and now the race is on to get the four acre second meadow cut whilst the weather still holds. But by this point in the year the field is generally too wet with dew to be harvested in the mornings without clogging the tractor, and it is only after lunch that work can commence.

The annual cut is vital to the health of a flower meadow but there is no doubt that it can be a catastrophic event for many of the small animals that are sheltering in amongst the tall vegetation.

A pair of Kestrels have been perched up watching the proceedings with rapt attention, hoping to spot any rodents that have become exposed by the cutting process:

Kestrel perched on the top of the hay pile

Kestrels need to eat between four to eight voles a day, depending on the time of year and how much energy-consuming hovering they have to do. Here is the female with a vole, as viewed from the tractor:

The Kestrels have also been turning up on the trail cameras. The female has got a bumblebee in her left claw here which is a new and interesting bit of information for me:

And this is the male:

You get to see a lot of wildlife whilst driving the tractor up and down the meadow for many hours. The resident corvids here tolerate Kestrels and Sparrowhawks but any other raptor is swiftly escorted off property. A Buzzard flew in close, hotly pursued by two Crows:

A flock of Goldfinch came down to eat Knapweed seeds. Sections of the meadow are left uncut every year on a rotational basis and we always try to leave some Knapweed areas for the birds.

The small flock of Goldfinch also appeared on a trail camera:

A very large frog was uncovered and rescued. What a monster this one was:

The male Herring Gull and his offspring were photographed from the tractor. I wonder how long this young bird will stay with its parent while it learns the ropes?

The pair have appeared many times on the trail cameras this week:

In fact they are waiting for us every morning as we walk up to scatter seed at the cages. But it has been some time now since the colour-ringed female gull has been seen.

On Sunday morning Swallows and House Martins were swooping over the meadows, readying themselves for their migration south. But we also saw flocks of Starling flying in off the sea and these are arriving rather than leaving. I went out with my big camera to see if I could photograph all this bird movement but instead spotted a Grey Heron down at the wild pond.

Our British Grey Herons are mostly resident throughout the year but they are joined for the winter by herons from the colder parts of Europe. These birds arrive on the east coast of Britain in the autumn and my guess is that this is a migrating bird hoping to feed up on our frogs after a long journey.

I was fifty metres away but still the heron didn’t like me pointing my big lens in its direction:

I have had another go at pulling reeds out of the wild pond. The water is much deeper now than when I last did this two or three weeks ago:

Progress has been made but we are not done yet

I will leave the pulled reeds close to the pond for a day for any displaced animals to make it back into the water. The reeds will then be stacked near the badger sett for the badgers to take as bedding – they love these reeds

All the reeds that were pulled last time have already been dragged underground

This grassy area near the tree copses only ever has sparse vegetation with patches of bare earth showing:

A lot of insect holes and fresh diggings have appeared here:

I waited to see what was coming in and out of these holes and found that it was an Ivy Bee colony. These bees were discovered as new to science as recently as 1993 but, since then, have been recorded over much of Europe. They were first seen in the UK in 2001 in Dorset and have spread quickly, now being found throughout southern Britain. Being new arrivals, they are here before any of their specific predators (such as the Ivy Bee Blister beetle, which has got to the Channel Islands but not yet onto mainland Britain) and this has probably allowed them to colonise so rapidly. I couldn’t find any reference to them harming any of our native species and it seems that these late-flying, Ivy-loving bees have slotted into a niche that was generally otherwise unoccupied.

These bees do like to nest in colonies but they are solitary bees meaning that each bee has her own nest hole. The hole can be a foot deep with up to eighteen brood chambers that are lined with her protective and waterproof saliva and each provisioned with pollen, onto which she lays a single egg. The egg hatches into a larva that feeds off the pollen and then pupates, the adult not emerging until next autumn.

A late Southern Hawker Dragonfly resting up in the weak October sunshine. This is a male and I love his spotty blue eyes:

This photo was taken by my sister-in-law of a very showy caterpillar that she found on her post box this week. It is the caterpillar of the Pale Tussock Moth and, although I often catch the adult moths in my trap, I have never seen the caterpillar before. What is the purpose of that red tail tuft? This is a fully grown caterpillar that has finished feeding up and is now wandering around looking for somewhere to pupate over winter:

What an amazing looking thing.

Here we are, it’s now Monday afternoon and the tractor has done its job and the meadow is finally declared cut. The harvest is over for another year and not a moment too soon since the weather is forecast to be deteriorating later on today.

The second meadow is now finished
Only a third of this area between the new hedgerow and the eastern boundary gets cut every year as part of the plan to manage this area for reptiles

Over in the wood, we have been hacking back dogwood to keep open a clearing that was becoming overgrown. A trail camera captured the work in progress:

We have now installed a cheap but cheerful picnic table at the edge of the clearing and we can imagine ourselves sitting there next summer with a cup of tea, possibly some cake as well, and surrounded by woodland butterflies:

Other photos from the wood this week:

Beautiful Buzzard
Sparrowhawk
Surely the same Sparrowhawk but on a different camera
Fox carrying Squirrel
Fox carrying Rabbit
A sweet little Wood Mouse

I finish with this morning’s sunrise over the sea. What an uplifting way to start the day:

Rain, Rain, Sunshine, Rain

Things were very changeable at the beginning of this week with plenty of gusty wind and sudden intense bouts of rain. The sort of weather that could trick the unwary into skipping off coatless around the meadows, bathed in sunshine and blue skies, only to find themselves soaked to the skin before they were halfway round. So, yes, that happened to me twice. The ponds are pretty much filled to winter levels:

Many of the trail cameras in more exposed positions have now got water on the lens and it then takes several days for them to dry out and start taking clear photos again. As a result, half our fleet of cameras has been out of action for most of the week:

The lens is that top circle that is fogged with water droplets on the inside

The cameras struggle with condensation like this for much of the winter and so we are going to experiment with ways to give them some protection from the worst of the weather. Perhaps build an outer casing around those most affected? Or maybe we buy more expensive cameras for these very exposed locations?

One morning we were out photographing water drops dangling off the Hawthorn berries….

…when we saw a Spotted Flycatcher doing its distinctive aerial loops to hunt down flies. We only see these birds on migration:

Thankfully the weather improved in the second half of the week, good enough for the Bird Ringers to come one morning and catch sixty-four birds, mainly migrating Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps. The highlight, however, was this young Redstart:

The two central tail feathers are brown rather than red

They caught a Song Thrush, also born this year:

This young Wren looks a bit of a mess because it hasn’t yet got its adult feathers through:

On another sunny day, we had a grand day out to the Dungeness RSPB reserve, an hour down the coast:

The Dungeness nuclear power station as viewed across one of the reserve’s lakes

The reserve is still not fully back up and running and only three of the hides were open, although they have built a couple of additional viewing platforms for these Covid times. We were pleased to see this male Ruff:

Male Ruff in front of a monster Great Black-backed Gull

In the breeding season, male Ruffs have a collar (or ruff) of long neck feathers that they use to impress the females. One day I would love to see this display but it would need careful planning since, in the UK, Ruffs only breed in a few places in East Anglia.

By Arjan Haverkamp – originally posted to Flickr as 2009-05-22-14h06m00.IMG_9725l, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9141547

Back in the meadows, this is the male of our pair of Herring Gulls. Now that he is in his winter plumage, his head is flecked with grey rather than being brilliant white:

Jay drying off after a bath
Kestrel hunting for rodents from the perch
Sparrowhawk hunting for birds from the gate

This is a lovely portrait of the One-eyed Vixen, with her blue left eye. This fox has been with us through two summers now, raising a litter of cubs both years, and I have successfully treated her for mange twice. I feel a very personal connection with her, although she reciprocates with a healthy wariness of me and always keeps her distance.

This is a screen shot from a video of a fox carrying prey. The prey seems to be both squirrel-sized and shaped but with a furless tail with a white pom pom at the end. I have no idea what this can be:

In the sunshine of the second half of the week, we had a chance to enjoy the insect life around the meadows before it all disappears from sight for the winter:

Peacock Butterfly in such beautiful condition that you can observe all the wonderful details
Red Admiral. I always particularly like the two unexpected turquoise bars at the back
Small Copper
Ivy Bee on an Ivy flower with a leg loaded with pollen

We have been following the fortunes of a large European Garden Spider that has spun its web in a Hawthorn, about four feet off the ground. Today it had caught a woodlouse and was in the process of consuming it. How did a woodlouse get into the centre of the web, or did the spider go off and get it?

We have had the Almar at anchor alongside us for quite a few days. She is nearly 200m long and has sailed from India bringing 7,000 tonnes of steel destined for a company in Canterbury. Sourcing steel has apparently been a big problem during the Covid epidemic and her arrival was eagerly anticipated:

As we went through Dover on our way to Dungeness, we saw her in port:

The Port of Dover issued a press release about her because she is by far the largest ship to have used the new cargo facility there since it opened in December 2019.

On another calm, still day, we saw another migrant boat come in below us and this time it arrived on its own, unescorted by Border Force vessels. I can see a little boy sitting up at the front. The BBC website reports that this weekend more than 1,100 people crossed the channel like this and arrived in Britain.

We have been working hard in the wood. In the regenerating area there is a clearing that is covered in marjoram. This native plant is loved by pollinators, and it is here we saw the Silver-washed Fritillary Butterflies this year, gracefully gliding from plant to plant. But the glade was becoming heavily overgrown with dogwood which was starting to shade out all that lovely marjoram and so we knew we had to take action. It has been very good cardio exercise – we have now had three sessions of cutting down and clearing away the dogwood and it is really pleasing how much we have achieved. But light rain had started to fall once more for yesterday’s session and again I got very damp because I had not brought a coat.

I think this is going to look great next summer. The hope is that there will be a carpet of marjoram heaving with woodland pollinators and alive with butterflies and all this effort will have been worthwhile.

Missing from the Meadows

As a rule our bird feeders do brisk business but, at this time of year, they are like ghost ships on a becalmed sea.

Up until recently the large capacity feeder at the hide pond was having to be refilled every few days. At the moment, though, the seed level is hardly going down at all. Although there wouldn’t be birds on the feeder whatever the time of year when a Sparrowhawk is at the pond

Seed-eating birds are missing from the meadows and the wood because they are off hoovering up grain in the fields after harvest and it is lovely that, for a few weeks at least, the land is amply providing for them. A badger latrine near the sett in the wood supports my point- this badger has surely been off foraging in the agricultural fields all night:

Sorry to be introducing badger dung so early in the post

The Hazel coppices in the wood are covered in these silvery blisters. These are the leaf mines of the Nut-leaf Blister Moth (Phyllonorycter coryli).

The moth larva lives and then pupates within the safety of the blister, eventually emerging as an adult micro moth.

The adult Nut-leaf Blister Moth. Photo from Naturespot.org.uk

A Tawny Owl was photographed on three separate woodland cameras this week:

Lots of birds use this branch to perch on in the Beech grove:

Great Spotted Woodpecker

This squirrel made some sort of miscalculation and ended up getting wet feet:

One morning this week we went down for a swim at the local beach below the meadows with a visiting son. There were some people going out foil surfing – I hadn’t heard of this water sport before:

The board has an attached hydrofoil underneath it and the sail is held in the hand.
The idea is to get the board to lift up onto its hydrofoil which hasn’t happened in this photo yet – possibly it wasn’t windy enough

There was also a yoga lesson going on down there:

This large and amazing caterpillar was spotted in one of the beachside gardens:

The Privet Hawk-moth caterpillar. What is the purpose of that black, hooked tail?

What immediately sprang to my mind was that the caterpillar is in the colours of the Suffragettes:

Suffragette hunger strike medal and badge in the British Museum using the same colours as the Privet Hawk-moth caterpillar

The Privet Hawk-moth is the UK’s largest Hawk-moth and one that I often catch in the moth trap up in the meadows:

Two Privet Hawk-moths with their pink and black-striped abdomen. Also two pink and green Elephant Hawk-moths and an Eyed Hawk-moth. Photo from July 2020

The caterpillar will be feeding up on various plants including wild and garden Privet from July to September, at which point it will burrow more than 30cm underground to pupate and spend the winter. Perhaps it will use that black tail spike to dig its way underground?

The tractor has gone off in disgrace to be serviced and repaired and will be missing from the meadows for a couple of weeks. Here it is being picked up in front of the enormous pile of hay that it has already harvested from the first meadow. The much bigger second meadow is largely yet to be cut and so I hope that the tractor will be back soon and we can find a weather window to continue the job.

The hay will gradually be taken away over the next year with the household green waste collections. Currently, however, these have been suspended since the beginning of August because of a shortage of HGV drivers and the hay pile remains as large as ever.

Our hopes for reasonable October weather in order to be able to get on with the harvesting have been somewhat dampened after this last wild and stormy week. One night the wind was so strong that the stringing mechanism in the flag pole snapped and we found the flag in a sodden heap on the ground.

The flag has come in to get dry, and working out how to restring the flagpole has now been added to our list of jobs. It has been very autumnal out there but we haven’t yet felt the need to turn that Aga on

Last week I was getting on with another autumn job of pulling reeds out of the wild pond:

After leaving the pulled reeds by the side of the pond for a day so that any displaced animals can crawl back into the water, I put a pile of the reeds close to the badger sett.

Even though the reeds are uncomfortably coarse and still dampish, the badgers can’t resist them. There is also a pile of soft, dry hay nearby that they have left untouched:

Dragging the reeds back to their burrow as bedding

Much progress has been made on the project of revealing the young hedgerow from surrounding vegetation and laying bark chips down to stop moisture loss and discourage weed growth next summer:

We have quite a lot of this wool insulating packaging that arrives with food deliveries, stored up in the attic and awaiting inspiration on the best way to reuse it. We probably have twenty metres in all and realised that it would be good under the bark as additional mulching material.

Covering the wool with bark chips

It is so enjoyable to see Kestrels back hunting in the meadows where the vegetation is now short. They sit and look for rodents from the perches where possible because it uses less energy than hovering:

This next photo has got some rain on the lens but I like the very British queuing system to use the bath. Kestrel, Magpie and then Herring Gull.

Magpie springing from the bath

The way the gang of Magpies are surrounding and staring at this juvenile Herring Gull feels a bit sinister:

Crows are great big birds, yet it seems that they are still interested in the tiniest of millet seeds:

We found another interesting caterpillar this week – this time the larva of the Muslin Moth:

Muslin Moths are regulars in the moth trap here. They are lovely moths with their furry boleros. This is a male and the females are white:

Naturespot.org.uk

Squirrels are always largely missing from the meadows but there is a mature Walnut tree in our neighbour’s garden and this autumn this animal has been scampering around burying their nuts in our lawn:

I watched the squirrel bury a walnut, which was large because it was still in its protective green outer casing. There was a lot of digging and subsequent covering up and the whole thing took quite a long time. I hope it remembers where it put it because we don’t want a Walnut tree growing in the lawn.

Although we didn’t find any Wasp Spider webs in the long grasses of the meadows during the summer, this week we found a forlorn Wasp Spider cocoon being buffeted around by the wind in a vulnerable place on a short grass path:

A Wasp Spider cocoon, attached to a leaf by some sticky black threads

We only recognised what it was because we found some in good condition safely secured to long grasses last winter:

This is how a Wasp Spider cocoon should look. Photo from December 2020

We relocated the cocoon to within some long grass that won’t get cut this year, even if we do manage to get round to some more harvesting. Hopefully it can now survive through the coming winter and release its spiderlings next spring.

Next summer we will search the area where we relocated the cocoon to see if we can see some of these spiders and get that warm feeling that our rescue mission was successful. Photo from August 2020

This was a glorious sight when I pulled back the curtains one morning this week

Today’s weather is forecast to be awful this afternoon with winds of nearly 60mph for several hours and heavy rain. However, the day has started so peacefully with no hint of what is to come. The Herring Gulls are rising up from their overnight roosts on the sea and flying inland over our heads to their feeding grounds to start their day, calling to each other as they go. Very atmospheric:

The sun just poking her head above the horizon this morning

We do see magnificent sunrises from the meadows when the conditions are right and, now that the days are getting shorter, we are more likely to be awake to see them.

Apples and Pears

Here in the meadows the foxes love a tasty pear or two and late September is the time that the pears ripen on the trees and the fun begins.

Last year, after they had plucked all the fruit from the lower branches, they went climbing up into the tree for more:

September 2020

This year, they haven’t started climbing yet but, if they do, then we should know all about it:

The most photographed pear tree in Kent?

Badgers are also very partial to a pear but they are at a disadvantage with their short little legs and have to rely on drops:

Jays, Magpies and Crows are very interested too, pecking away at the fruit by day:

In the image below, the pear on the right went rotten first and, because it was touching the perfectly healthy left hand pear, the fungus passed across and produced this amazing effect.

Whilst all this pear mania is going on, the apples are lying mostly untouched on the ground:

I did, however, cut a few apples in half and spread them on the ground in front of a camera and a group of six Magpies came down to eat them. We have noticed in the past that birds are much more interested in apples if they are first cut up and this seems odd since surely most birds’ beaks could easily pierce the skin of an apple?

We willingly donate all the pears on this tree to wildlife because, although we do like pears ourselves, we like seeing the animals enjoying them more.

We are now certain that this is the male of the pair of Herring Gulls who have adopted the meadows as their territory throughout the year. The female is colour ringed and easy to spot but we can also recognise this male by his behaviour (which amusingly includes dive-bombing the dog) and it is only ever him that turns up with their youngster. We do see the female as well, but only on her own.

The male and his now-fledged chick

We have enjoyed observing this pair of Gulls this year but would like to better understand them and an out-of-print book has been recommended to us. Published in 1953 but apparently ageing well, this book was written by the Nobel-prize winning Niko Tinbergen and is a study of Herring Gulls’ social behaviour. It sounds very interesting and we have got a second-hand copy on its way:

The influential Collins New Naturalist series of books is the longest running natural history series in the world with over a hundred volumes published over seventy years

Now that some of the meadows has had its annual cut, we are seeing much more Kestrel activity. A trail camera captured one flying with its distinctive long, thin wings:

I think that this bird is one of this year’s young:
And this is an adult male with his grey head:

There is a lot of variation within the population of Common Lizards that we have here. We saw this beautiful green one this week:

This is so very different to the one we had seen the week before, yet they are the same species:

We also saw a different species on the Isle of Wight last week, the Wall Lizard, although there is also a population of these non-native lizards near us at Folkestone:

Other photos from the meadows this week:

One of September’s jobs each year is to pull reeds from the wild pond. All this vegetation has grown this year and it would soon get out of control if neglected. But this task is much more pleasant since we bought some waders
You can just make out the rufous tail of this migrating Redstart
Luckily we hadn’t yet picked the dog up from kennels after our trip to the Isle of Wight when this Chinook military helicopter came so low over the meadows. The dog would have gone completely crazy at this violation of her territory
I haven’t seen this fox before. Blind in his left eye but otherwise looking healthy
Another Blackbird in moult
First time we have seen a Tawny in the meadows for months
The racing pigeon has now moved on and I wish it well for its onward journey home
The Woodpigeon breeding season doesn’t seem to be over yet
I like this action shot
Such a rich orange on this Comma butterfly
A rare daytime Badger shot
Before a bath….
… and afterwards

In the woodland, I did a double-take when I saw this photo of a fox who looked so much like the Old Gentleman, who has left a fox-shaped hole in my heart:

Owls and Buzzards have been using the wood baths in this long spell of dry weather that we have been having this September:

Long wings

I am pleased to have had a few recent sightings of Marsh Tit:

I like this photo of a mouse trying to reach the water. Surely it is close to its tipping point?

There have been lots of visits of both adults and two juvenile Bullfinch to this pond:

Finally, I often give Magpies a hard time in this blog but now they have found a way to give me their response:

IOW Special

An Isle of Wight-shaped paddling pool in Ventnor, as viewed from the north

This week we spent a few days in a National Trust cottage on the Isle of Wight. When we booked, we unfortunately had not realised that the Isle of Wight Festival was on the very same weekend, although all this really meant for us was that the ferry from Southampton was busy. But the crossing was really interesting, all the same. From the meadows we often see these enormous car transporters at a distance sailing along the shipping lane and so we appreciated getting the chance to see one up close at last:

It has an opening on its side to enable ship-to-ship transfers, such as getting the pilot on board when coming into port.

The cars being loaded and unloaded are stored in multistories on the dock

It seems that Cruise Liners are back sailing the seven seas again after their long period of moth-balling. This monster block of flats, the Sky Princess, is off this week for a six day tour up to Glasgow and Belfast and back. Three of the six days are sea days and so there must be lots to enjoy on board:

I was shocked by this apocalyptic view of the Esso refinery at Fawley on the banks of Southampton Water:

It has been several decades since I was last in the Isle of Wight and it was exciting to arrive in Cowes.

Our cottage was in the south of the island, on the secluded and wonderful countryside estate of Wydcombe saved for the nation by the National trust:

Our home for a few days

I knew that there were Red Squirrels on the island and so had brought some peanuts and a trail camera to try to see one. But I hadn’t anticipated that it would be so easy – there was actually one in the back garden of the cottage when we arrived and we pretty much saw them wherever we went.

We were surprised that these Squirrels didn’t have tufted ears but I have now learnt that they only have those in the winter

How wonderful to have Red Squirrels burying nuts in the garden:

There were some lovely walks from the cottage, one of which took us up to to St Catherine’s Oratory. This used to be a complete chapel built around 1328 but now just the tower remains which was used as a beacon to protect shipping until the 17th century.

A migrating Wheatear up on the headland by St Catherine’s Oratory
Another view of the idyllic Wydcombe Estate

A view westwards from Blackgang Chine along the south coast and ending in the Needles. This photo shows a striking change in geology – brown cliffs give way to white chalk cliffs in the distance:

One morning we visited Carisbrooke Castle, where Charles the First was imprisoned for fourteen months before his execution in 1649.

Jackdaws have been associated with the castle for hundreds of years:

Nine species of Bat have been recorded roosting at the castle:

Walking along the ramparts, we noticed something interesting in one of the gatehouse towers:

Naturally nesting Honey Bees in the tower, bottom right in the photo
When not being farmed for honey in bee hives, these bees would tend to nest in hollow trees

We also visited Ventnor Botanic Garden which felt warm and humid and put us very much in mind of Gibraltar

Ventnor has Britain’s oldest colony of Wall Lizards. These reptiles are thought to be non-native but they have been in Ventnor for hundreds of years.

A Noon Fly (Mesembrina meridiana) with orange-gold on its wing bases, its face and its feet. It breeds in dung but we saw these colourful flies sun bathing on tree trunks

We were thinking that we might see some White-tailed Eagles while we were staying on the island. The Roy Dennis Foundation has released twenty-five of these eagles on the Isle of Wight over the last three years. They are all satellite tagged and so he knows that, although the 2020 birds are mainly off exploring elsewhere at the moment, the 2019 birds have now largely returned to the island and the 2021 birds are yet to disperse, meaning that there is quite a concentration of these magnificent birds here.

The only one we saw, however, is this stuffed one at Osbourne House, Queen Victoria’s beloved holiday residence and where she died in 1901.

A Wolf from the Apennines and a Great Bustard in the background, shot by various members of the Royal Family in the 19th century

I believe that there was a card by this case that said that this five-legged deer was born on the estate and Victoria and Albert’s children tried to care for it but it died. However, I cannot find any reference to this now and so I am doubting myself
Such a beautiful island

The Isle of Wight is a relatively small island – only 36km wide and 22km deep and with a population of 142,000 people. We didn’t get to explore the west of the island during our stay and there is much more to see, so we hope that we will return before too long.